The following is an excerpt from my WW II lecture series – ” Is Man No More Than This?” which is available in its entirety at http://smokingmule.blogspot.com March/April 2014 archives. The formatting is poor there and I am transferring some of the material to this blog site. This is from Lecture IV in the series: ” Marianne in Chains and Anne Frank in Hiding.” and the main topic was the Nazi Occupation in Europe. Please note this was originally an oral presentation which has been converted to print form. Thus it was designed to accommodate a certain cadence and delivery that cannot be entirely captured in the print, nevertheless this retains the essence of the story.
ANNE FRANK IN HIDING, HORRIBLE TRUTHS, AND A BEAUTIFUL VOICE
Millions perished during WW II, they died as anonymous victims, consigned to oblivion with no one to tell their stories. But in select cases we can put a human face on the suffering. The most iconic victim of the war was Anne Frank, and she did tell her story.
Here is a recap of the family’s experience. The Franks – Otto and Edith (parents), Margo and Anne (daughters), fled persecution in Germany in the 1930s and took refuge in Holland. Their application for entry into the United States was denied because of burdensome immigration policies and quotas. When Germany conquered Holland in 1940, the family was forced to hide in the Attic for twenty-five months before they were betrayed. While in their sanctuary, Anne began composing her ” Diary” at the age of 13. It was originally titled ” Tales of the Secret Annex” and destined to become a source of much confusion and controversy in the subsequent decades. It was not really a diary, it was not chronological. Designating it a memoir would be more accurate. For simplicity’s sake I will use the universally familiar title and refer to it as a “diary.”
There was actually not one diary but three: Version A which was compiled when Anne was 13; Version B, where she was making revisions before she died at the age of 15; and Version C, the one that was modified for public consumption. Version C is the amended edition. This was the copy arranged by Anne’s father Otto when he returned to Holland and found the scattered papers on the annex floor. It is a blend of versions A and B, censored and adapted for publication purposes, and eventually it mutated again into stage and film variations. ( There is also the relatively recent Version D which contains ” The Missing Pages” but that falls outside the purview of the time frame under discussion.)
THE MIRACLE OF SURVIVAL AND PUBLICATION
When the Franks were betrayed, an Austrian officer ransacked the dwelling. When he discovered the Diary, he assumed it was not of any intelligence value because it was in an unlocked drawer. He just threw the papers on the floor where they remained until as noted above, Otto collected them. An anecdote about that officer. He was finally tracked down in 1963. Perhaps somewhat predictably, he was employed as a regular Austrian police officer. He was arrested and suspended from his job. Then in an unseemly act of temerity, the man responsible for the deaths of seven people (it wasn’t just the Franks hiding in the annex) complained because his reputation had been tarnished and he was subjected to financial hardship.
Resuming now with the topic of publication. A limited edition of Anne’s Diary was circulated in Holland in 1947 where it remained a provincial curiosity. Every American publishing firm rejected it. It was sitting on top of the reject pile and doomed for extinction at the Doubleday bureau in Paris when staff member Judith Jones grabbed it and began reading. She couldn’t put it down and it was saved. Otto Frank received an advance of $ 700 and it was released on June 12, 1952, Anne’s birthday; she would have been 23. It quickly began an international sensation.
When the Diary was converted to the Broadway and Hollywood versions, it was sanitized, gushingly optimistic, and some chose to de-emphasize that Anne was a Jew. (Which is actually very important.) For print translations, the sexual references and profanity were cleaned up to accommodate American and British tastes. Such content was apparently alien to those respective national audiences and might cause them to blush or descend into an orgy of moral pollution. The print edition in Germany underwent a significant overhaul. There was a great reluctance to offend the tender sensibilities in a country whose leaders had murdered the book’s author. (For more elucidation on this topic and the story of the Diary, I enthusiastically recommend ” Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, and the Afterlife” by Francine Prose.)
Another area of dispute was the question of authorship. Detractors insisted that no teen could have written it. This nonsense was repudiated by handwriting experts and her authorship was authenticated by forensic analysis of the Diary paper.
While parrying assaults from those naysayers, the Diary also became a source of contention in schools and libraries. It is the 13th most censored book in the United States. (Note: I am using the word “censorship” in the broadest sense. There is actually a distinction between censorship, which deletes or edits offensive phrases, and “banning”, which outlaws the book altogether.) Right-Wing Christians led the charge for censoring the book because of its sexual references, and the scenes where Anne was rebellious and showed disrespect to her parents. Teachers were actually fired for assigning it. In Tennessee ( what a coincidence, home of the Scopes Trial), seven Fundamentalist parents sued a school board claiming contact with the text could cause ” eternal damnation” for students because it was ” evil, polluted, and heathen.” They won the first round in court but the decision was reversed on appeal. In later interviews it was established that the guardians of public virtue had not read the book and condemned it for passages Anne had never written. The “offensive” content in question came from segments inserted in a Broadway production.
More ominously, both in Germany and the U.S. , Neo-Nazi groups stage Anne Frank book burnings. In Germany that makes one subject to criminal prosecution whereas in the U.S. there are no such statutes. They obviously missed the point of the book and practiced the very oppression that Anne was condemning. To this point in the series I have confined myself to reporting content without injecting any lengthy personal commentary and opinion. However I am going to depart from that stance temporarily to address that conduct. Some years ago when I was lecturing on book burnings during Mao’s Cultural Revolution and the Nazi bonfires in Germany, I quoted some of the zealots who participated. Here is a paraphrasing and the essence of their attitudes: ” With each book I threw into the flames I felt more empowered. I found it intoxicating that I had the power to destroy thought.” I offer that it is advisable to be wary of those who share such sentiments. Censorship is evil. To quote the German poet Heinrich Heine: ” Where they burn books, they will, in the end, also burn people.”
HORRIBLE TRUTHS AND A BEAUTIFUL VOICE
Contrary to the liberties taken with the film and stage adaptations, The Diary of Anne Frank is not a work of blind optimism, it is a tale of moral condemnation. Anne was not a naive, ill-informed teen. She secretly listened to the BBC and was aware of events outside the annex. She had pessimistic observations about her cruel oppressors. She asked why God singled out Jews for suffering. Jan Romein in her perceptive and remarkable essay ” A Child’s Voice” captures the true spirit of Anne’s contribution: ” More than all the evidence presented at the Nuremberg Trials, the Diary is an indictment of the witless barbarity of Fascism. ”
Anne speaks to the emotional trauma: ” That’s the difficulty in these times: ideals, dreams, and cherished hopes rise within us, only to meet the horrible truths and be shattered.”
There are horrible truths and facts to be faced. And the fact is that the most recognized victim of the Holocaust, was a precocious teenage girl who like so many young people had dreams, and her dreams would be shattered. She had dreams of becoming a famous writer but was betrayed along with her family and sent first to Auschwitz, then later transferred to Bergen-Belsen. She was an innocent girl whose only crime was being Jewish and became a victim of a monstrous regime. An innocent girl who heard whips snapping and saw dogs snarling as they ripped the flesh off vulnerable helpless victims. The horrible truth is that an emaciated Anne screamed when someone stole her meager rations and she would die a hellish death due to starvation and typhus in the spring of 1945, just two weeks before the camp was liberated.
But her voice and her spirit lives on despite the neo-Nazis burning her book, despite ideologues trying to ban her book, and despite the noxious Holocaust deniers who peddle their pernicious falsehoods.
And I close with a quote from Francine Prose that speaks to that voice and that spirit: ” Meanwhile across the equator and around the world, Anne Frank’s strong and unique and beautiful voice is still being heard by readers who may someday be called upon to chose between cruelty and compassion. Guided by a conscience awakened by a girl in an Amsterdam attic, one citizen of Ukraine or one Argentinian policeman may yet opt for humanity and chose life over death.”